UEFA Nations League: Marcus Rashford opened the scoring in England's 2-1 win against Belgium

UEFA Nations League: England Find a Way to Win Against World Number One

England 2-1 Belgium

When I confidently said that this Nations League Sunday afternoon clash was full of matchwinners, there were many names in my mind.

Marcus Rashford – the man of the moment – his former Manchester United teammate Romelu Lukaku, the footballer of the year Kevin de Bruyne and England skipper Harry Kane were all among them.

One man who certainly wasn’t, with the greatest of respect, was Chelsea youngster Mason Mount.

Yet here he was at Wembley, scoring his second international goal, via a fortunate deflection, to earn England victory over the world’s top ranked nation.

The Three Lions may have created few UEFA Nations League highlights so far in the 2020/21 tournament, riding their luck in their first two games, But halfway through their group matches and they top the standings in Group E.

While this SBOTOP observer thinks Gareth Southgate is not the man to take England to silverware, no-one can argue he isn’t helping the national side get positive results.

Unbeaten, 23 goals scored and only one conceded in a calendar year, he can afford a wry smile at his critics and doubters likes yours truly.

 

Highlights of the game

In my defence, all I would say that, if this had been a World Cup or European Championship match, I doubt boss Roberto Martinez would have substituted De Bruyne with 17 minutes to go – or that Belgium would have been so tepid in the second half.

UEFA Nations League: Roberto Martinez' men ended their visit at Wembley in 2-1 away defeat against England

Roberto Martinez during Belgium’s match against England

Or that the result would have been the same if the visitors had been able to call upon Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen and Dries Mertens.

But alas, let’s focus on England and the Nations League betting odds on them will no doubt shorten after this success.

That didn’t seem the case early on.

England had kept a clean sheet in each of their past six matches and another one would have been the longest run of games without conceding in the national side’s history.

However, that all changed within 16 minutes as Lukaku, whose pace and strength frightened the home rearguard all game, was brought down by Eric Dier and duly sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way from the penalty spot.

Belgium – aiming to become the first team in a decade to beat England in three consecutive meetings – were the better side but the hosts were level by the break as Jordan Henderson was adjudged to have been impeded when attacking a corner and Rashford confidently rifled home the spot-kick.

He had received a round of applause from England’s players and staff after becoming an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

The decisive moment arrived just before the midway point in the second half as Kieran Trippier nodded the ball down to Mount whose shot took a freak deflection off Toby Alderweireld and looped over Simon Mignolet.

With Kyle Walker superb on the occasion of his 50th international appearance, the game was won, despite gilt-edged chances for both teams in the closing stages – Yannick Carrasco and sub Kane the main culprits.

Read too much into it? I don’t but England won without playing particularly well – that’s the sign of a decent side if ever there was one.

 

Key statistics

Rashford is the fourth Manchester United player to score in four consecutive competitive appearances for England, after Bobby Charlton, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney (x2).

He has now netted as many goals for England as Teddy Sheringham (11).

England have scored at least two goals in each of their last eight home games; their longest such streak since September 2010 (18 in a row).

Mount now has as many England goals as Rio Ferdinand, Paul Ince, Gareth Barry and indeed, Southgate.

Lukaku’s penalty was the first goal England have conceded in exactly a year (six straight clean sheets); the previous player to score against the Three Lions was Zdeněk Ondrášek for Czech Republic on October 11, 2019 (a year ago today).

England lost just one of their first 21 matches against Belgium (won 15, drawn five) but lost both of their meetings at the 2018 World Cup.

Since losing 4-1 against Germany at the 2010 World Cup, England have not lost a match on a Sunday (played 14, won 10 drawn four), winning six of their seven Sunday matches under Southgate.

England have won 20 of their past 21 competitive home matches, the only loss in this run being a 2-1 defeat by Spain in September 2018.

Belgium have scored in each of their past 20 away matches, scoring 55 goals.

 

What’s next?

England, semi-finalists in the inaugural Nations League, host Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday night and will be keen to win and build upon this important victory.

Belgium travel to Iceland at the same time on the same evening.

These two nations meet again in the Belgian capital on November 15.

 

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